It was the sugar’s fault. I’m sure of that. The sugar and the blatant evidence that a once-treasured source of soul-feasting and retreat was being plundered in front of my eyes. At least that’s how I saw it, through the sugar-fed haze.
I am usually very sparing in my intake of sugar, but Easter brunch offered stuffed French toast with strawberries and I could not resist. The plate came with four large “Texas toast”-sized slices which I was amazed at being able to devour rather quickly! A cup of decaf coffee and cream to cut the sweetness probably didn’t help either. Even decaf contains some caffeine, to which I seem very sensitive.
Thus fueled, I thought of going to the local botanic gardens for a stroll around the tulip beds in the beautiful weather. My friend thought this a good idea, and since both of us are members of this local landmark, we confidently approached the entrance.
There were a number of cars, but also many leaving. It was three o’clock, after all, so those with children were probably taking them home for naps. As we approached the gate, I saw a sign that said, “We are sold out for Easter.”
That should have been a warning, but the grounds are spacious, the crowds weren’t great, and we were to be outside only. Besides, we were members, and used to coming and going as we pleased, pandemic restrictions respected. What could be the problem?
The problem is that in order to survive in times perilous for non-profits (even before the pandemic), this organization had drastically changed its mission. Once a haven for gardeners and artists—where you could get instruction in what you planned to do as well as see examples of art and plants and landscapes right there on the premises—it had become a “venue.”
This meant that plants—and the greenhouses that had spawned many of them—had to go to make way for exhibits and a beer garden to which people would hopefully be drawn and spend their money. Instead of the quiet, retreat-like atmosphere of a garden, there were the noisy kiosks of vendors, on occasion, giving a circus-like atmosphere to the place. Grassy lawns and even shrubs were discounted in the need for space for such events.
But the crowning insult was the demolition of the much-enjoyed Pineapple Room.
This was a small building that clung to the side of the hill, shaded by flowering trees and often landscaped with brightly colored flowers. The top floor was a gift shop with museum-quality gifts. Downstairs was a dining room, with white tablecloths and napkins, and a gourmet menu to delight any Southern palate!
My friends and I shared many a delightful, conversation-filled lunch there. The dining room was walled on one side with large windows overlooking the deck and the shady lawn. Green was the prevalent color, and a restful color it is for the soul. When he retired, I took my friend and pastor there for a celebratory lunch. It was a special place.
Now there is only a swath of bare ground where the building and its deck used to be.
I understand that buildings get old and sometimes it is more expensive to repair them than to replace them. But the Pineapple Room—the pineapple stands for hospitality, by the way—is not going to be replaced. Who needs such a place when you are running a “venue” and trying to attract a much-different demographic?
Of course, that is the rub. My demographic is not seen to have “disposable income” the way the younger crowd does. Alas! The younger crowd has little or no knowledge of what Cheekwood was or yet could be. They are still about the business of making a life for themselves and their families, and going to “events” to pile up a resumé of experiences to enrich theirs and their children’s lives is part of that “business.”
I don’t fault them. Our culture has not trained them in deeper spiritual values, like treating Nature with respect and care. Instead, feet trample over tender grass, and instead of hushed wonder, there is lots of noise. How much noise does it take to look and wonder?
I was so dismayed at seeing for the first time in a long time the devastation of the quiet serenity of this place that I lost my temper.
And that’s why I barked at the attendant who barred my way into the grounds. It wasn’t her fault. She was probably not even born when I first began going to this place!
The pandemic rules were no excuse. The grounds are extensive and my friend and I would have been perfectly content to roam the lawns and various garden spots, keeping safe distancing for the 30 minutes it would take for us to feel satisfied. We did not need to go inside at all. If we had done so, we would have donned our masks and waited our turn.
No. . . there was no reason to deny us entry. There was no hospitality, either. No pineapple symbol or dining room. Just commercialism at its most crass.
I’m so sorry it had to end this way. Ours was quite a love affair, Cheekwood! RIP.